Tag Archives: Virginia

Firefighters get specialized training to fight crude oil tank car fires

Repost from The Albany Times Union [Editor: We can expect that this kind of training is being initiated all across North America, given the proliferation of derailments and explosions.  Has the Benicia Fire Department sought training?  Other Bay Area fire departments?  How about a regional training event?  – RS]

Firefighters train as crude oil surges through Albany port

Controlled blaze gives firefighters practice for a real oil event at port
By Brian Nearing  |  May 8, 2014
An instructor, right, leads firefighter trainees during a live fire training drill on best practices for the suppression of ignitable liquids such as crude oil in the event of a flammable liquid emergency at the Port of Albany Wednesday May 7, 2014, in Albany, NY.  (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union) Photo: John Carl D'Annibale / 00026798AAn instructor, right, leads firefighter trainees during a live fire training drill on best practices for the suppression of ignitable liquids such as crude oil in the event of a flammable liquid emergency at the Port of Albany Wednesday May 7, 2014, in Albany, NY. (John Carl D’Annibale / Times Union)

To practice fighting towering flames that could erupt should crude oil-laden trains ever derail and explode, firefighters in the Port of Albany on Wednesday practiced on controlled blazes created on something not unlike a giant barbecue grill.

In a parking lot off South Pearl Street, about two dozen firefighters spent several hours dragging hoses to spray special foam on fires fueled by propane lines from a tank truck parked nearby, and that burned both in vapors bubbling in a water-filled pan on the ground and from a valve atop an adapted tractor-trailer.

Flames would shoot up, teams of firefighters would creep up to spray foam, flames would be extinguished and then the next team would repeat the exercise.

The state Division of Homeland Security ran the two-day drill, which is part of routine training done statewide for local fire departments and companies with their own firefighting crews, said James Cable, chief of the division’s Special Operations Branch.

Later Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring all railroads operating trains hauling large loads of highly flammable Bakken crude oil — like those into Albany’s port — to notify state emergency response officials about routes and operation of rail traffic through their states.

The rule requires rail companies that have trains containing more than one million gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude — equivalent to about 35 tanker cars — to notify state officials on the routes of those trains.

Also the rules asks oil shippers to phase out use of the oldest, least-safe tankers, known as DOT-111s, as soon as is practical, without setting any deadline.

Applauded by U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer, who last week called for such notification, and Kirsten Gillibrand, the federal announcement came after the local safety drill was finished. Before the drill, Albany Deputy Fire Chief Frank Nerney Jr. called the drill “an extension of our regular training to understand the use of foams to fight flammable liquids. We take part in this drill twice a year.”

Nerney said training has focused on crews at the South End firehouse, which is closest to the Port of Albany, where trains carrying Bakken crude oil are arriving daily. Crude shipments have skyrocketed in the last two years. Derailments and massive fires in Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama and Quebec in the last year have raised mounting safety concerns.

In some of the infernos, flames were up to 200 feet high. Wednesday’s flames were much smaller, appearing to shoot five feet from the water-filled pan and 20 or 30 feet from the tractor trailer. Crews wearing protective clothing were able to walk within a few feet of the flames, which were still hot enough to be felt by reporters standing back about 40 yards.

New recruits from the Albany department, as well as its five battalion chiefs, took part in the drill, as well as members from fire departments from Schuyler Heights, Maplewood and Schenectady and the SABIC chemical plant in Glenmont.

Cable said the principles of the propane-based training system apply to crude oil fires or other “ignitable liquids.” The chemical foam is mixed with water under pressure, and the foam is sprayed over a fire. It acts like a blanket, sealing off the surface of the burning liquid from air, which extinguishes the blaze. The foam is consumed gradually by fire, and so must be applied enough to create a barrier; otherwise, gaps will allow air to continue to feed the blaze.

The state has run the training course for local departments for three years, said Cable. “We are looking to increase this training, as more communities are asking for it.”

Virginians concerned about explosions, spills near Chesapeake Bay

Repost from The Daily Press, Hampton Roads, Virginia

Crude oil tanker trains to Yorktown ignite controversy

Three derailments, explosions in U.S. and Canada in past six months highlight dangers

 April 05, 2014|By Tamara Dietrich, tdietrich@dailypress.com

Virginia environmentalists and activists are worried that an uptick in tanker trains carrying petroleum crude oil to a new storage and shipping hub in Yorktown is a recipe for disaster.

At issue is crude oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota — the same crude that’s been implicated in derailments and explosions over the past several months from Quebec to Alabama, and is now being shipped by rail through heavily populated and environmentally sensitive areas of the commonwealth.

“These trains are traveling through Lynchburg along the James River through Richmond and on to the York County facility on the York River,” said Glen Besa of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club. “We’re concerned that a train derailment could result in an explosion and the loss of life, or an oil spill that could jeopardize our drinking water supplies and the environment.”

The group says tanker trains carrying Bakken crude began arriving in Yorktown in December, and is calling on the public and first-responders to be aware of the risks associated with those trains and ensure measures are in place to prevent accidents and, if necessary, effectively respond to them.

Meanwhile, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is calling on the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard to take action to reduce the risk of a devastating spill in the vulnerable estuary as “dramatically” increasing amounts of crude oil are likely to roll into Yorktown in the coming years, then get barged out again to East Coast refineries.

The bay is “on borrowed time in the face of a major oil spill,” CBF President William C. Baker said in a recent letter to Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr.

Safety a priority

The storage depot is the former Yorktown Refinery, a 600-acre facility that for decades converted crude oil into gasoline and other fuels. It closed in 2010 and cost the county one of its biggest industries and tax sources.

Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline LP bought the facility for $220 million in 2011, and over the past two years spent $150 million to convert it to a transportation terminal, according to spokesman Brad Leone and news reports.

“Plains made a significant investment to expand and modernize the existing rail and dock infrastructure, which has made the facility even safer and more efficient,” Leone said.

The Yorktown Terminal supports 90 full-time jobs, he said, and has the capacity to unload 140,000 barrels a day and store 6 million barrels.

CSX Transportation, based in Jacksonville, Fla., provides rail service to the terminal as part of its 23-state network.

“CSX appreciates that the shipment of energy products is a topic of concern for citizens here in Virginia and across the country,” said spokeswoman Melanie Cost, adding that the company places the “highest priority” on community safety.

Most of its crude oil shipments originate in the Bakken region, she said.

The risk

After three train derailments and explosions in six months involving crude from the Bakken Shale region, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a safety alert in January that this crude “may be more flammable” than other types of oil. The PHMSA is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Last July, an oil train carrying Bakken crude derailed and ignited a catastrophic explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people, leveling the small town and causing more than $1 billion in damages.

In November, a 90-car crude oil train was traveling through a rural part of Alabama when 20 cars derailed and 11 of them exploded. An unknown amount of crude fouled nearby wetlands, and damage was estimated at nearly $4 million.

Then, in December, a crude-oil train collided with a derailed grain car in North Dakota. Of the 21 oil cars that derailed, 18 ruptured and exploded. About 400,000 gallons of crude were released into the environment, and 1,400 residents had to be evacuated. Damage was estimated at $8 million.

In response, the DOT issued an amended emergency order last month directed at companies that offer petroleum crude oil and carry it by rail.

The Bakken formation has become “a major source for oil production” in this country, the order noted, and the risk of flammability is compounded because crude oil is commonly shipped in bulk on large unit trains.

The Congressional Research Service reported to Congress in February that shipping more crude oil on bigger trains increases the risk of accidents and the size of the resulting fires and explosions.

The controversial Keystone Pipeline would service the Bakken formation, but it is unknown if that pipeline will ever be built. If large tanker trains are used instead, federal agencies project about 49 more injuries and six more deaths each year.

Force a fix

In its emergency order, the DOT requires that bulk quantities of crude oil be properly tested and classed, and be treated as a hazardous material when shipped in rail tank cars. It also forbids deliberate misclassification.